Now that we’ve entered the third week of the new year the industry is officially back into the swing of things. At the top of the agenda is award season. Sadly, Fantasia hasn’t snatched any trophies for her role in The Color Purple. However, critics are holding out hope for next year. With the Grammys approaching, R&B fans are predicting a clean sweep for the evening’s most nominated acts, SZA and Victoria Monét. During the pre-ceremony festivities, Gladys Knight will receive a Lifetime Achievement Award for her monumental multi-decade-long career.

Immediately after the award show rush is festival season. Coachella, Governors Ball, and the New Orleans Jazz Festival have announced their lineup, all featuring several notable R&B acts. But what new music dropped this week? 

This Fresh Finds Fridays column features releases from Samaria, Michael J Woodard, Louis York & Tamia, Naomi Sharon, Aqyila, and Jastin Martin. Check out this week’s roundup below. Don’t forget to let us know who you’re listening to in the comment section below.

Samaria – Even Paradise Rains

After being featured on the I Wanna Dance With Somebody soundtrack, Samaria appeared on the radars of R&B music lovers nationwide. Since then, the Oakland native has carefully molded her sound. In 2023, her strings of singles gave the public something to sink their teeth into. Now, the release of her major label debut album, Even Paradise Rains, emphasizes that Samaria has officially arrived.

The constantly expanding sea of active R&B acts makes it challenging for newbies to find their footing. But, thanks to her musical upbringing, Samaria doesn’t have that issue. Across the eight-track body of work, Samaria explores her broad musical interest while stressing her knack for songwriting. Even Paradise Rains is progressive R&B at its finest. The album’s different sonic pockets of alternative, rock, and electronic sounds make it abundantly clear that Samaria understands how to tastefully toe the line of traditional and abstract concepts with flare.  

On Instagram, Samaria penned a note about the project for followers. “I’ve had these songs held hostage, just waiting for the right time to set them free,” she said. “I honestly don’t think any other time would have been better than right now. Many times, I’ve told myself that I’ll never step foot in a studio again because of the pressure that I’ve placed on myself, and right when I’m about to call it quits and delete every trace of myself, something pushes me right back into the booth.”

“Won’t talk too much, but just know that these songs were handwritten from my pen straight to a notebook… no iPhone notes,” she added. “I needed it all to feel as real as possible.. with that being said. Thank you for receiving me.”

The standout tracks on Even Paradise Rains are “Serial Recluse,” “Tight Rope,” and “Beating Myself Up.” 

Michael J Woodard — MJW1

Michael J Woodard is one of R&B music’s freshest faces. While his face may be fairly new, his voice isn’t, having starred in Netflix’s Arlo the Alligator Boy. The Philadelphia native even appeared on reality TV competition show American Idol. But thanks to his new deal with Katy Perry’s Unsub Records, Woodard is leaning into his love for music. The singer’s debut EP, MJW1, serves as that grand introduction.

The six-track project showcases full musical potential. MJW1 highlights that Woodard cannot only construct a hearty contemporary R&B track but he also has crossover appeal. From the structuring of his song and crisp sonics to Woodard’s vocal innocence, MJW1 sits comfortably at the border of pop and R&B, reminiscent of early Bruno Mars.

Woodward took to his official Instagram page to celebrate the project’s release with his supporters. “This is my first full-length project, and I am so overwhelmed with joy that we get to share this moment together,” he said. “These songs are just some of what I’ve been doing this past few years and I am so excited and elated that you are about to hear them. This is gonna be an amazing journey we’re going on together. I want this music to touch you, amaze you, thrill you, and make you feel.”

MJW1’s standout tracks are “Anti You” and “24 Hours.”

Louis York & Tamia – “Three Little Words”

Prior to forming Louis York, musicians Claude Kelly and Chuck Harmony were the industry’s go-to songwriting duo. Now, as a group, the pair have demonstrated just why that is thanks to their notable collaborations. Their latest single, “Three Little Words,” with Tamia, is all the proof you need.

Louis York’s commitment isn’t to one specific genre but rather to the sonic mission at hand. However, in “Three Little Words,” they show that R&B is currently in their creative arsenal. The beautifully crafted track alongside Tamia lays out the bewitching feeling of love. The record’s sharp technicality yet fluid theatrical production pulls in elements of country love and R&B to draw listeners into their endearing story.

“So tell me what am I supposed to do with you / And what am I supposed to say to you now that I let love in / Where do we begin / Now that you made me open my heart too soon / And I wasn’t ready and neither were you / But now it’s said and done / I know that we both wanna run / But what if we give in to what we’re running from / What are we running from,” sings Kelly and Tamia.

“Three Little Words” is Louis York’s follow-up to past single “Alone A Lot” with Anthony Hamilton.

Teairra Marí – “Take Me Out”

After dropping clues online, Teairra Marí is officially making her return to music. Although she has already established a name for herself, most new R&B listeners mainly recognize her for her stint on reality television. But Marí is working to change that. In 2019, she released the return project, Rehab. Now, she’s back with new music. 

Co-written with Dominyque Pendrick Allen, Marí’s latest single, “Take Me Out,” is a record for the ladies. On the track, Marí airs out her frustrations with a love gone stale. “I’m not the type of girl you keep in the house or the mansion / Sometimes it’s cool, sometimes I wanna go out / Somewhere fancy / Get handsome / Give me a reason to dress up / I got this dress that you gone love / The way you touch my curves and hugs me / I like to lay up cuddle, that’s my vibe / You know I love to cook for you, just not every night / Love when you put effort in and treat your baby right / You don’t ever take me out,” sings Marí.

There comes a point in a relationship where partners can become complacent, causing them to lose their spark. “Take Me Out” serves as a reminder that courtship is a long-term commitment. 

Naomi Sharon – “Nothing Sweeter”

In 2023, Naomi Sharon made her label debut on OVO Sounds. Even though the singer’s album, Obsidian, is still reasonably new, Naomi still has more to give. On her latest single, “Nothing Sweeter,” Naomi again lets listeners into her most vulnerable moments.

Co-written by James Bryan McCollum and Liz Rodrigues, “Nothing Sweeter” is about letting go and giving in to the moment. As Naomi sings, “You flow through me, movin’ me / I see no walls, I fear no more / There is no place we can’t go / Swimmin’ in your presence / We got so far away from the surface / I ain’t never been so deep / But with you, I’m ready to be / Nothing sweeter than this,” she illustrates how fear is a choice but so is love.

The production’s minimalist approach forms a pocket for the tenderness of Naomi’s voice to pull the audience in. Through the song’s run time, Naomi’s vocals and the track’s instrumentation engage in an ever-so-delicate dance, each trading their time in the foreground. Nothing’s sweeter than that. 

Aqyila – “Effortlessly”

In 2023, Canada continued its dominance across R&B for yet another year. One of the most exciting new acts hailing from the country was Toronto native Aqyila. The singer’s EP For The Better took the world by storm, and she doesn’t plan on slowing up. Her latest Phinisey-produced single, “Effortlessly,” is a peek into Aqyila’s mindset that helped her break through the crowd of new acts.

“I’m always overthinking / Worried about what’s the next thing / Living in the past, not the present / I gotta trust where I’m heading / There’s no dead ends, so I must / Take a breath and just / Woosah / It’s gonna be alright / Say it flows to me,” sings Aqyila.

Similar to the writing by Alessia Rita Iorio, Duwayne John Phinisey, and Midian Mathers, the production of “Effortlessly” feels like a celebratory. The grand trumpets and big pop-out production breaks provide the listening audience with encouragement to keep going with sonic affirmations, with Aqyila’s vocals serving as the consistent thread to keep to mind off of the peaks and valleys you’ll find yourself navigating. 

Jastin Martin – “Mean Well”

Don’t let her gentle demeanor or approach to music fool you, Jastin Martin can pack a punch. The Houston native latest single, “Mean Well,” shows just how mighty her sword is.

On the track, co-produced by The Fisticuffs, Martin puts her foot down about what she is and isn’t willing to accept from her partner. “You know I’m big on intentions / You interrupted my healing / I tried to give you what I’ve been missing / Said we forever, and then you go missing / I see the difference / I treat you different / I deserve different / You play with my feelings / You sayin’ one thing and then go and flip it,” sings Martin.

On the surface, the track is about nipping bad behavior in the butt. But digging deeper than that, “Mean Well” is about developing, understanding, and enforcing boundaries to protect your heart.  Although you can try your best to foster an environment that discourages certain acts, you can’t control your partner’s actions. However, you can regulate how you respond to breaches of that social contract. “Mean Well” is an example of that reaction put to music.

“Mean Well” is Jastine Martin’s first song following the release of her 2023.


*Post photo cover credit: Ryder

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